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The world is getting smarter, and smaller
It’s hard to believe that automobiles have only been in the world for a little over a hundred years, or that getting from the east coast to Kentucky took nearly a month just over 200 years ago–it’s unfathomable next to the speed of modern automobiles or the (debatable) convenience of air travel.
Future transportation technology, if the 10 pieces of emerging tech featured in this gallery are any indicator, will see us wondering how we lived so slowly in 2018.
From two-hour intercontinental flights to packages delivered in the blink of an eye, and completely autonomously, we’re on the verge of the world shrinking yet again–and smart technology is at the core of it all.
1. Delivery drones
Most everyone has heard of, and has opinions regarding, Amazon’s drone delivery program. Autonomous drones capable of carrying packages would in theory be able to move goods from distribution centers to recipients without requiring a single human to do so.
Ground-based automated delivery isn’t out of the question either: Starship has created a small six-wheeled drone that can deliver packages in a two-mile radius. Domino’s Pizza has even used them in a pilot program.
2. Connected autonomous vehicles
Self-driving vehicles are definitely a hot topic in modern tech, but consumers may not be so hot on it: 55% say they wouldn’t ride in a fully autonomous vehicle. For many people the issue is one of trust: Are they actually safe, and how would other drivers on the road change the situation?
The solution comes in the form of connected autonomous vehicles that communicate not only between each other, but between smart infrastructure as well. Connected vehicles would create one big safety net between each other, informing other vehicles of coming risks, controlling speed in different environments, and relying on other accident-preventing methods.
Transitioning to driverless, interconnected roadways may take decades, but the end result will be safer and faster travel.
3. Flying taxis
Flying, smartphone-summoned taxis could give rideshare companies like Uber a run for their money.
One German company has created the Volocopter, an 18-rotor vertical takeoff helicopter that can take two people up to 17 miles at a comfortable, stoplight-free cruising speed of 43 MPH.
Don’t worry about Uber, though: It’s already working with NASA to launch flying taxi service Uber Elevate, with plans to be to market by 2023.
One of Tesla owner Elon Musk’s high-tech fantasies, the Hyperloop is a combination of maglev train and vacuum tube that can transport people and cargo at nearly the speed of sound.
Hyperloops, which would function underground, would be fantastically expensive to build. The Boring Company, another Musk creation, was founded for the very purpose of developing a way to reduce the $1 billion per mile costs.
Will we ever be traveling in a hyperloop? That remains to be seen, but milestones in its development make it seem at least plausible that we’ll someday reach the promised 760 MPH speeds Hyperloop could deliver.
5. Flying cars
Flying cars have been a part of popular consciousness for decades, and we may be soon approaching the point where they’re actually feasible. Whether or not they’ll be available for private operation is another thing altogether–it may be far more feasible for them to be used as taxis or other forms of public transportation.
It’s also possible that, if flying cars ever become something private citizens can operate, they’ll be autonomous. The end result may not be as enjoyable as driving your one-person plane around a Jetsons-like city in the sky, but they’ll still make getting around a lot easier.
6. High-speed rail
Japan has been enjoying ultra-fast travel on bullet trains for decades, so high-speed rail isn’t even a future technology. Its wider application outside of densely populated Japan into wide open places like the United States still has yet to be realized, though.
Discussions about high-speed rail in the US have repeatedly stalled, but small-scale high-speed rail still pops up on occasion. In one example, a high-speed railway between Houston and Dallas could cut two hours off of drive times and an hour off air travel between the two cities.
The next hurdle high-speed rail will likely have to jump is its efficacy next to autonomous products like drones and flying taxis–would the world rather have fast travel on fixed tracks or the flexibility of autonomous road (or air) vehicles?
7. Sub-orbital air travel
Taking a plane from one side of the world to the other is taxing at the best of times–it’s hard to sit still for the 10 to 11 hours a flight can take. Sub-orbital air travel could be the solution to that problem, potentially shrinking a nine-hour flight into the length of a feature film.
Specially designed aircraft that can reach low orbit can drastically speed up travel times, but the biggest problem will be the price hurdle: It could cost as much as $250,000 for a one-way trip.
If successful, the prices of sub-orbital flight could drop, but it may be a long time before that happens.
Pictured: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo
9. Transportation pods
It’s possible that you may never call a taxi or use a rideshare app in the future, instead opting for an automated modular pod.
The pods operate as a swarm, scaling from a single-passenger car to a 10-person bus as needed. Pods link up while traveling, forming a sort of train, and split off as destination demands.
Dubai plans to test autonomous pods from Next Transportation but hasn’t given word on when they’ll actually roll out.
10. Smart cities
At the core of all these smart, internet-connected, and automated transportation methods are smart cities. In order to make travel safer, faster, and more convenient new infrastructure is needed–essentially future travel can’t happen without smart city technology.
Vehicle-to-infrastructure communication will be central in avoiding congestion, improving safety, and making autonomous travel a reality.
If you’re looking forward to the future of travel you’re also looking forward to the future of cities–there’s no separating the two. With smart city investment growing around the world, we may be in that future sooner than we expect.
- IT leader’s guide to the future of autonomous vehicles (Tech Pro Research)
- Tech and the future of transportation (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)
- Hyperloop One CEO: Here’s our roadmap to transform the future of transportation (ZDNet video)
- Elon Musk and the cult of Tesla: How a tech startup rattled the auto industry to its core (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Self-driving cars: A level-by-level explainer of autonomous vehicles (CNET Roadshow)
- Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on flying taxis, the future and taking over a company in crisis (CBS News)
- Project Wing: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)